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West Virginia Policy on Extracurriculars Immediately Challenged in State Courts

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Charleston, W. Va--A new policy in West Virginia schools requiring students involved in extracurricular activities to maintain a C average was challenged in court less than a week after it went into effect.

The policy was approved by the West Virginia State Board of Education last August, making the state the first to enact such a policy. Although a number of districts nationwide have linked grade-point averages with participation in extracurricular activities, no other state has approved a policy like West Virginia's, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Suits challenging the policy have been filed on behalf of students in Kanawha and Pleasants Counties.

The most controversy so far has been generated in Kanawha County, the state's largest school district and the site of the state capitol, where the school board went even further and forbade students who failed even a single class to participate in activities.

Suit to Overturn Policy

On Jan. 30, hours after schools issued first-semester grades, lawyers for Rodney Myles, a 6-foot-11-inch senior who plays on the St. Albans High School basketball team, filed suit to overturn the county policy.

Mr. Myles achieved a 2.0 grade average but received a failing grade in English.

Circuit Judge John Hey denied a request for a temporary injunction to allow Mr. Myles to play basketball, telling his lawyers, "Education is the only hope for our future."

"While I may sympathize with this young man's inability to play, I commend the Kanawha County Board of Education," the judge said.

He added, "Were it basket weaving, it would be one thing, but he failed English. We are in an English-speaking country."

The case was appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which agreed to hear it on March 6. However, the court denied an injunction to permit Mr. Myles to play.

In Pleasants County, a suit has been filed on behalf of Jeffrey Hughart, a 10th-grade wrestler who was declared ineligible because his grade-point average fell below the state's cutoff point.

The suit, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, challenges the state board policy.

In that suit, Judge Patrick Casey issued a 10-day restraining order that permitted the student to participate in a wrestling tournament. The injunction applies only to that county.

County records show that 5,750 junior- and senior-high-school students, more than one third of the student population in the schools, became ineligible for extracurricular activities because of their grades.

Among the senior high schools, the percentages of ineligible stu-dents ranged from 28 percent to 44 percent. Among the junior high schools, the percentages varied from 22 percent to 60 percent, according to school officials.

State Superintendent of Schools Roy Truby said he did not object to the court challenge but intended to enforce the policy until a judge directed him to do otherwise.

Mr. Truby said he was unsure of the state policy's effect on other county school systems; because the grades had been available for less than a week, he had not had time to survey them, he said.

He noted that since the policy was approved last summer, the West Virginia Board of Education had received several requests to postpone or alter it but had refused to do so.

Paul Morris, president of the state board, said he still supports the policy and noted that a recent newspaper poll in Kanawha County found that citizens favored it by a 2-to-1 margin.

"I hope it has a positive effect in terms of improving academic skills," he said.

'Shoot for Higher Standards'

"A lot of kids only achieve what is expected of them, so they do the minimum to get by. If you raise your expectations, that will cause people to shoot for higher standards."

Similar policies have been established in Philadelphia, Memphis, Los Angeles and other California districts, and a number of districts in Alaska, according to the ecs

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